NFL official Sarah Thomas can mark another “first” in her book of successes.
Thomas became the first female referee to officiate a post-season NFL game during the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers game on Sunday. She was the down judge on referee Ron Torbert’s crew during the game, which saw a Patriots victory.
The mother of three and former college athlete is no stranger to “firsts.” Thomas, now in her fourth season as an NFL referee, was selected as the NFL’s first female official in 2015. Prior to that, in 2011, she became the first female official to work in a Big Ten stadium. In 2009, she was the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game.
“I’ve always said that if you do something because you love it and not try to prove somebody wrong or get recognition for it, the recognition probably just is going to happen,” Thomas told CBS News in 2015.
As of 2017, the title “down judge” is new; the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating, Al Riveron, changed the name of the position to make the term more gender neutral. “I just don’t think it’s right that we call anybody out by gender,” Riveron told SB Nation in 2017, adding, “especially in this day and age when we welcome everyone into football.”
Thomas has consistently rejected the “trailblazer” title, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t recognize the importance of her role.
“As women, the way we carry ourselves speaks a lot. Field presence is what they talk about,” Thomas told SB Nation in 2017. “But you can still be a woman, you can be attractive, and whatever way you carry yourself speaks volumes to the reception.”
“A man may feel as if may he can have his way or whatever, but I just think that when we carry ourselves with confidence, and walk into a room with confidence, the atmosphere kind of changes,” she added.
“You have to see it to be it, and little girls everywhere are watching. Way to go, Sarah Thomas!” King wrote.
The official Patriots’ Twitter profile also congratulated Thomas, tweeting on Sunday: “Proud to be part of history today, as Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate an @NFL playoff game.”